Gun Review: Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911

TTAG’s Fearless Leader called me up shortly before I left for Knob Creek. “I’m going to make your day” he said. He’s said this before. The last time an ArmaLite AR-50 showed up at my FFL. Needless to say, he had my attention. “I’m sending you a Wilson Combat 1911.” Sweet. I’ve been looking at upgrading from my Springfield A1 and this would give me an opportunity to test out the high end options, I thought. Maybe I could even get WC to strike me a deal on one if I liked it. Before I had a chance to say anything, RF dropped the bomb. “One more thing — I want you to keep it. Just do a full review.” Yes, boss. Right away . . .

RF has done a couple of posts about this gun already. We’re going to go over everything he did, but just in case you want to check it out here they are.

Wilson Combat is widely believed to be the makers of the finest Model 1911 style production pistols, taking John Moses Browning’s original design and improving it for the modern world. The pinnacle of that improvement is believed to be the Bill Wilson Carry, a 1911 style pistol whose specifications were dictated by Bill Wilson himself and designed to be the ideal handgun for concealed carry.

Luckily, I’ve been carrying a fullsize 1911A1 for a few months now and have some… complaints. Complaints which will now become my criteria for determining if it has earned a place in my waistband and fulfills its role as Bill Wilson’s anointed carry piece.

What specifically didn’t I like about my Springfield 1911A1?

  • The gun is too big and prints too easily.
  • The gun is too shiny (my own damn fault for choosing a “pretty” gun).
  • Sights suck.
  • Safety sucks, no beavertail.
  • Trigger is meh.
  • Not very reliable.

You know, just a couple of things. Minor stuff.

(BTW, remember to flip your camera to full manual mode with shiny guns folks. Otherwise the built-in metering will screw with your exposure settings and turn out stuff like this next picture.)

Complaint #1 was the biggest for me. With a full size 1911 I constantly felt like the muzzle was digging into my thigh and the grip was very obviously printing all day long. It was uncomfortable and made me constantly worry about if people noticed the large gun-shaped bulge.

The Bill Wilson Carry 1911 fixes these issues. The barrel is 4 inches instead of the traditional 5, and the grip is slightly smaller as well. While the barrel and grip may have changed size, everything else on the gun is the exact same as any other 1911 including the fire controls. For a better idea of how much smaller the grip is than a standard 1911 here’s a side-by-side comparison with a USGI style 7 round magazine inserted into each gun.

The grip is only a little bit smaller, but that little bit makes all the difference. The smaller grip is still big enough to fit my entire bear-like paw on it, but small enough to be less noticeable when walking around with one. With a fullsize 1911 I always wore a loose outer garment, such as a zippered sweater. With the Bill Wilson Carry I can get away with having nothing more than a buttoned fitted shirt untucked over the gun.

Despite the smaller grip each of the magazines that came with the gun had built-in extensions of the front strap, providing adequate real estate for my pinky to rest against and help mitigate recoil. While we’re on the subject of the grip, I wanted to mention something that caught my eye as soon as I picked the gun up for the first time.

The front and back straps on the Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry’s grip have a fairly aggressive pattern cut into them. A standard 1911 might have some horizontal scoring, but this was much more aggressive and a lot more “grippy.” Holding it in your hand you get the feeling that there’s no way you’re going to drop it even if your hand is soaked in motor oil. Which is perfect for a self defense gun (like this), but at the range it started to get a little annoying after the second hundred rounds. It’s a feature that I love having on a self defense gun, but might have to resort to medical taping over it for extended range sessions.

Complaint #2, as I said, was my own damned fault. I wanted a “pretty” gun and didn’t think about the repercussions of carrying it until I was standing at the check-in counter at Reagan National Airport about to “unload and show clear” to a ticket agent with a line of people behind me. For a self defense firearm the primary concern with the finish is decreasing the likelihood that it will be seen, a feature that the Wilson Combat pistol does very well.

The finish on the Bill Wilson Carry is something called Armor-Tuff, which is a proprietary finish they put on a lot of their guns. The result is a flat dark finish that claims to be tough enough to withstand corrosion even when immersed in saltwater for 60 days. It is a rather thin layer of protection, weighing in at just about 1/1,000th of an inch, and by the time the gun got to me some areas of the gun already were starting to show their age. RF promised me a gun, period. Not necessarily a new gun. But I try not to look gift horses in the mouth.

Another benefit from the coating is that lubrication is increased, meaning the slide should move a lot easier. Which it does. That thing is like sliding two oiled pieces of glass against each other. Translation (for those without two spare pieces of glass): it’s as smooth as smooth can be. Until you put the spring in there.

The recoil spring in this gun… “Beefy” does not begin to cover it. Never in my life have I ever felt an action this tough, with the possible exception of the action on an M2 Browning .50 BMG Machine Gun. It’s so tough that I couldn’t release the slide stop as effectively or quickly as I’d like when reloading. After a few mag changes I gave up on trying and reverted to gripping the back of the slide and yanking it to release. Which is OK for self defense situations, but not so good for competition.

As if they had imagined this happening, Wilson Combat made the serrations a lot easier to grip and hold onto. With a standard 1911 the serrations on the slide are straight up and down, but with the Wilson Combat serrations they’ve been placed at an angle. I don’t know if there’s any science behind it, but to me it feels a lot easier to grip and a lot more comfortable.

Complaint #3 with the old 1911 is the biggest bugbear. I can stand a crappy feeling gun as long as the sights are fairly good, and by fairly good I mean easy to pick up and easy to see. USGI sights, like those on my Springfield 1911A1, meet none of those requirements. One of my friends who rocks a 1911 in competition shooting like no man I have ever seen routinely tries to use my gun just because the sights are that terrible (he claims it makes him faster with his “real gun” to practice with bad sights).

Wilson Combat’s sights are nice and huge. Not big enough to where they won’t fit in a holster anymore, but large enough that the eye easily finds them. To make it even easier Wilson Combat includes a green fiber optic front sight. Why green? Because its the easiest to see in dark conditions. Hence why night vision and (most) tritium sights are green.

What makes these sights so easy to pick up is the fact that they’re gigantic and chunky. USGI sights have a slim profile to them, but these (comparatively) are shoeboxes. Which is great. Small things are hard to see under pressure, so the bigger the better especially on self defense guns.

Complaint #4 about the 1911A1: the safety. Not that the gun was unsafe, but the mechanical devices that prevented me from accidentally shooting myself in the thigh were a little tough to use on my 1911A1.

The thumb safety on a normal 1911 is pretty tough. There’s not a lot of space on the lever itself to put your thumb, and the safety isn’t easy to engage or disengage in a hurry. Wilson Combat’s thumb safety fixes this problem by providing a MASSIVE surface area and a silky smooth movement of the safety allowing for easy movement.

Speaking of safeties, the 1911A1 still had a “standard” grip safety. The grip safety is one of the features that I particularly like about the 1911 design — its a device that provides extra security against the gun going off, but is automatically disengaged when the gun is gripped. You don’t have to do anything special, it’s just there. One of the first things changed on JMB’s 1911 design after it was adopted: the design of the grip safety. And for good reason. It sucked. This spawned the 1911A1 design with an improved grip safety. But it still sucked. It no longer allowed the hammer to bite you, but it still left welts. Which is a problem.

A standard grip safety likes to leave two massive welts on my hand after I’ve fired the gun a few times, and that gets painful. So painful, in fact, that I was forced to replace the grip safety on my Springfield with a Wilson Combat beavertail safety.

The beavertail safety increases the surface area where the gun meets your hand and distributes the force evenly, whereas the standard safety only contacted your hand in two specific places. The Bill Wilson Carry comes with a very nice beavertail grip safety finished to match the rest of the frame.

Complaint #5: the 1911A1′s trigger. And I have to admit, I didn’t see this get much better in the Bill Wilson Carry. It improved, but not a whole lot.

A trigger, for me, is what makes or breaks a gun. The difference between a crappy trigger and a good trigger is the difference between “on paper” and a 10 ring shot. The ability to choose the exact moment when the gun will fire, especially with smaller handheld firearms, makes all the difference. You can’t do that with a crappy trigger.

The trigger on my Springfield 1911A1 was terrible. It had a significant amount of creep (even after the slack), it had a nice false break, and it just felt “mooshy.” By comparison, the Wilson Combat trigger is fantastic. There’s very little slack. There’s almost no creep. Almost. There’s not a lot, but enough so that I let out an audible sigh when I felt it for the first time.

I have felt a handgun with a glass smooth and creep free break. I know it can be done. But I didn’t see it on display in the Bill Wilson Carry. Don’t get me wrong — the trigger is still WAY better than the Springfield; it’s just not “perfect.” And while we’re looking at that picture, I wanted to touch on another feature: the slide stop pin. That’s the bit that holds a 1911 together. Removing it is the major step in field stripping.

One of the nice things about the 1911 design: the slide stop pin protrudes from the other side of the frame, making it easy to push the pin out and disassemble the gun. On the Bill Wilson Carry, the slide stop pin is too short to protrude from the other side and the frame is countersunk to let your finger get to the pin, all in an attempt to make it easier to install a Crimson Trace (or similar) laser. Personally I would have preferred a full length pin (as I don’t use lasers and think they’re dumb) but to each their own.

The last complaint about my old gun: reliability.

The ejector on a standard 1911 is a square-ish piece, designed in a time when small parts had a tendency to be brittle and shear off. As such, it stops where the frame stops. This can be a problem (as my Springfield 1911A1 demonstrated time and again). By being so far back the extractor often can’t exert enough force to kick the empty case out of the gun. This leads to an issue called a “failure to eject” (FTE).

While on the range testing the Bill Wilson Carry, I decided to put some rounds through my Springfield 1911A1 as well to get a good point of comparison. Within 20 rounds the 1911A1 was having FTEs. The Bill Wilson Carry performed admirably through 300 rounds. The extended ejector made all the difference in the world in terms of reliability.

Speaking of the test firing, I think we’ve had about enough complaints. Time for the targets. 25 rounds, 7 yards (21 feet).

First up is the old Springfield 1911A1. Yup, not my finest work.

That’s more like it. The .45 ACP cartridge is still throwing me off, as I’m used to my “pansy little 9mm round” as my friends call it, but that still looks like an OK group to me.

Speaking of recoil, this thing is a BEAST! I thought a 5″ 1911 was bad, but the lighter weight, shorter barrel and heavier spring all make recoil noticeably heavier than the Springfield 1911A1. It’s not terrible, but it is heavier and makes you glad the front and back straps have those grippy cuts in them. The phrase “bulldog” kept popping up in my mind, and I think that’s the perfect way to describe this gun. A scrappy bulldog in your waistband.

One of the main differences in the groups is the vertical spread, and I think I can imagine a reason why the Wilson Combat excels in keeping rounds on target.

The Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry has a “match” barrel that sits flush with the frame. There’s no barrel bushing like with the Springfield 1911A1, so the barrel remains firmly fixed in place as the gun fires. This bushing-free design makes takedown a little interesting (as the slide stop pin is pulled with the spring still under tension), but otherwise the gun works identically to the original 1911 design.

The Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry is the perfect 1911 in .45 ACP for concealed carry. It fixes every issue I had with the fullsize version, mixes in a little tactical chic style, and completes the package with only the most subtle hints as to its maker. It’s Bill Wilson’s idea of perfection, and as far as I can tell it’s close to my ideal carry gun as well.

I don’t think I can give a better recommendation than this: I’ve carried it every day since I first fired it and trust it with my life.

Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911

Specifications
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel: 4″
Weight: 35 oz. Empty
Finish: Armor-tuff
Capacity: 7+1 (more with different mags)
MSRP: $3,080

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative to other similar guns, and the final score IS NOT calculated from the constituent scores.

Accuracy: * * * * *
The handgun is guaranteed to leave a 1.25″ hole in a target at 25 yards. And after shooting it I completely believe that. The accuracy is remarkable, especially with such a short barrel.

Ergonomics: * * * * 1/2
The smaller grip does take some getting used to, but once you do it’s not all that different from a fullsize 1911. Marked down 1/2 star for that, and because the grippy panels hurt my precious soft girly hands.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Up until the moment you pull the trigger all is well. Recoil, however, is a bit stiff. As in, I don’t think a .357 Mag had that much of a kick. The short barrel and light weight really take a toll during firing.

Concealed Carry: * * * * *
I just walked through the local supermarket with this thing IWB wearing nothing but a fitted shirt. I tried to do that with the fullsize 1911 once, almost had the cops called on me by a screaming mother. No one so much as batted an eyelash this time, and it was much more comfortable to wear.

Reliability: * * * * *
300+ rounds, no failures. No reported failures. No rumors of failures on the internet. Nothing.

Customization: 
That’s right, zero stars. this gun has a couple of options that you can request from the factory, but once its out the door that’s it. And that’s the point. It’s Bill Wilson’s child, his perfect gun, and changing it would be sacrilege.

Overall Rating: * * * *
I think it’s the choice of a .45 ACP cartridge that knocked the fifth star off for me. Yeah yeah “stopping power,” I know, but in such a short gun the recoil is enough to make you not want to shoot it that often. If Wilson Combat offered one in 9mm I’d be all over that like white on rice, but as .45 ACP is the only available flavor I’ll happily deal with it. Other than that this is the perfect concealed carry gun.

Bill Wilson Carry product website

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

25 Responses to Gun Review: Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911

  1. avatarHSR47 says:

    “I think it’s the choice of a .45 ACP cartridge that knocked the fifth star off for me…in such a short gun the recoil is enough to make you not want to shoot it that often.”

    Fire 50+ rounds through an LCP, HTFU, and then get back to us on this point.

  2. avatarDrDave says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve never owned a Wilson Combat 1911, but I’ve certainly admired them. This Bill Wilson Carry model is quite attractive and the subtle miniaturization efforts seem to pay greater dividends than expected, with respect to CC. My CCW is a full sized Springfield Operator (the Marine Corps version with black slide and OD green frame with Pachy grip and night sights by Trijicon). Other than its’ size, it is darned near perfection with regards to accuracy, reliability, shoot-ability, overall fit and finish. I don’t find recoil to be an issue in the slightest. Certainly more recoil than my Hk Mark 23 (which is the softest shooting .45 ACP on the planet) but my 12 year old son can rapid fire an entire magazine in under 10 seconds and keep every shot “on paper” or better.

    While the cost is certainly high, I may have to try out this Bill Wilson Carry. Every one should have a “boss” like yours. Thanks again for the review and carry in good health.

  3. avatarSCS says:

    I love mine, so far.

  4. avatarRyan Finn says:

    So jealous. That has to be one of the sexiest 1911s ever made Nick.

  5. avatarCharles says:

    Thanks for the review, looks like this one’s a keeper!

    It would be interesting to take a bone-stock, $600 1911 and tune it to more-or-less the performance equivalent of the WC and then compare the end cost of the two pistols. Andrew, over at Vuurwapen Blog, did something like this, but he started with a $1200 Kimber. I don’t know if he said how much he spent, or even if he kept records, but he did say he replace all the internal parts to get it tuned to his liking.

  6. avatarKWAL says:

    Great review, but of course I’m a WC fanboy. Some really nice photos in there too. Anyone looking into a similar pistol with a full size grip should check out the RDP from Joe Rankin.

  7. avatarJason says:

    Nick,

    You did say ‘my’ ideal carry gun so you’re covered. I still find it curious that this gun could be anywhere near ideal for regular carry.

    For one thing, is it IWB or OWB? Either way, do you ever sit down, drive or do anything but walk around upright? Although smaller than the full-size 1911, it’s still fairly big compared to a PM9 or even a G26.

    Furthermore, it’s a hand-fitted 1911. If a part breaks, you can’t just swap for a new off-the-shelf part. Say the link-pin
    breaks for example. Maybe rare but you won’t be able to get the gun back in action quickly.

    Also, does cost not factor into ideal? This thing is intended to get knocked around and not cause a conniption if you get
    a scratch. Could you ever treat a 5k pistol like that?

    This is just so far from MY ideal carry pistol that I find it hard to believe that it could meet anyone’s ideal criteria. I understand it’s way better than your Springfield and I could understand best 1911 style CCW. But to state that it’s your
    ideal in general leaves me confused.

    Jason

  8. avatartdiinva says:

    I have never had any problems with FTE on my Milspec even after putting 200 rounds through it in a session. I keep hearing about the lack of reliability on 1911s but I have never experienced it. I think most fail events are driven by poor maintanence. I have only had one FTF event in several thousand rounds but I am pretty sure that the magazine was the problem and not the gun.

  9. avatarJGlanton says:

    Awesome review. Now, if RF was an even better boss, he would procure for you a Nighthawk T3, an Ed Brown, a Kimber Super Carry, etc., and you do a shootout.

  10. avatarfrappe33 says:

    “A scrappy bulldog in your waistband.” Plagiarizing my Match.com ads I see.

  11. avatarMonte says:

    I simply cannot imagine carrying a THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR pistol around in a holster. If I had a gun that pricy (which my cheapbastardism completely prevents) it would be in a safe deposit box.

  12. avatarEd says:

    As a left handed shooter, I can see the benefits of the shorter slide stop pin. I don’t like the possibility of my thumb pushing against the slide stop and causing a malfunction.

  13. avatarAndrew Newton says:

    Great review. I agree with Monte, though. No way would I carry a 3k pistol. Although I would like to try it up next to my Springfield A1. I took care of the “loose barrel” issue by fitting a Springfield Match bushing,and tightened up my groups a good bit. I’ve never had a FTE, but an extended ejector is something I’m definitely going to look into as a prevention measure.

  14. avatarjohn says:

    Jason… If you have a problem with any Wilson at anytime…you send it to them. The average turnaround time is 3 to 4 days. Best cust service around.

  15. avatardls56 says:

    I have a WC Professional that is my absolute favorite 1911. But as others have said it’s just a little too nice for everyday carry (at least for me). I’ve been carrying a Sig C3 that is almost as accurate as my Wilson. Recently procured a lightly used Detonics CombatMaster and am waiting for the new springs to arrive from Wolff. I’ll change the springs and check it for function, if all is well I’ll be carrying it. 1911′s rock!

  16. avatarMark N. says:

    Yes the Wilson is a beautiful weapon–but 3 thousand dollars? All my guns put together aren’t worth that much! And assuming that any weapon in a DGU is going to the evidence locker, not to be seen again for years if at all, I can’t see carrying something like this for CC.

    • avatarMichael Szatalowicz says:

      I guess you just need to shoot one and feel one to appreciate what is being said. We spend money on many different items, restaurants, cars, women and events all the time. I fault no one for spending 5 to 10 K on a custom 1911. They are marvelous. I own an Ed Brown Executive Elite and a Custom Classic Supergrade Wilson Combat. All I can say is, wow!

    • avatarDr Bob says:

      When some sob is trying to kill you the 3000 won’t seem like much money. I have done a lot of shooting and have seen failures to fire of all types on 1911 pistols, My two Wilson’s don’t suffer from malfunctions and that makes the guns worth every cent.

  17. avatarBryon Morrissey says:

    I have recently acquired this pistol and must say, I do love it. It is an accurate, high quality tack driver. The 3k price tag can be a bit of sticker shock, but it is a hand fitted marvel of machinery. It will consistently out shoot a stock 1911. Now dumping some cash into a stock 1911 will reap the same performance. Match Barrel, tuned extractor, trigger job etc. etc. When you look up after spending the money, you may save yourself a grand. But to get the finished look of this model (Dehorning, carry cuts frame to slide fit, etc.) you would now be in the same price point.I have no apprehension of holstering a 3k pistol. It may be prettied up and placed in the “most elegant form of aggression” but it is a fighting pistol none the less. You can carry a 300 dollar pistol or a 3k one. The best gun for defense is the one in your hand. Mine just happens to be this fine piece.And if it were called to duty, and ended up in an evidence locker. Would you really be thinking about the 3k pistol or the 50k retainer for a defense attorney?Performance to value and quality. I feel this pistol is a bargain. cheers.

    FWIW, this replaced my Kimber Super Carry HD. I find the BW carry easier to conceal and more comfortable in my Milt Sparks IWB holster. 1911′s are excellent carry pieces for their slim profiles, again, YMMV based upon your body and method of carry.

  18. avatarLarry D. says:

    I own a Wilson and think it’s the best gun I own. I can’t put a price on my life. In a life & death situation you can bet your gropes will be larger than at the shooting range. If you can’t afford it I understand, but I will continue to carry mine.

  19. avatarCharlie says:

    Love the review, thanks! Price aside (I could justify that for the perfect carry) how fast did you shoot that target? Doesn’t the heavy recoil mean slower follow up shots as the muzzle rise forces reacquiring decent site picture? Also, I carry an FNX-40 because of its balance of round count, stopping power, and recoil. When you proposed new calibers you skipped .40S&W and right to 9mm Luger. Was that a deliberate choice or just habit or preference for 9mm? Don’t get me wrong I like 9mm but .40 does seem to have better ammunition choices (in styles of hollow points) due to being the go to round for law enforcement ..

    Still, great review!

  20. avatarWilliam says:

    Do I love that? Why yes, I sure do.

  21. avatarPaelorian says:

    “For a self defense firearm the primary concern with the finish is decreasing the likelihood that it will be seen…”

    Or the opposite. Which is what nickel, polished stainless, and other shiny finishes are for. So that your weapon is seen immediately, acting as a deterrent that will decrease the odds you’ll have to fire in a defensive situation. It might make you uncomfortable if people see it you don’t want them to, but in a defensive situation in the dark late at night a shiny, highly visible weapon can be a great asset. If Mr. Bad Guy is walking toward you and you present arms, you want him to stop in his tracks. He might not see that little black piece as you draw it and then you may have to get into a messy situation.

  22. For the money you pay for a Wilson Combat, the finish should not be wearing at all and the trigger better be perfect.

  23. avatarjohn hope says:

    $3000 for a commander 1911? Really? anyone who pays $3000 for a 1911 is getting just plain robbed. Im sorry. Custom hand made 1911…..who cares. Seriosuly. With the modern machining techniques used today you can get a $800-$900 1911 that will shoot every bit as good once broke in. And most look great and feel great! I understand there will always be a market for high end stuff on about every gun platform, but its a 1911. They are all essentially the same gun. no matter how much you try to dummy up how great the internal parts are. I dont think there is a pistol on planet earth that is worth 3000 dollars to be perfectly honest, unless your talking about collectors or antiques, and thats a different animal. I’ve just never gotten why people spend that much money for a $1000 pistol. Unless its made of solid gold and diamonds its a waste of money. Just my opinion. And yes……ive shot and handled these high end models (Les Baur, Wilson, ect). Again, dont see it being worth $3000 grand

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